Costa Rica, Panama on course for Thailand
Some first steps towards Thailand 2004 were taken this past week in Panama. Four of Central America’s young hopefuls for November’s showpiece were whittled down to two. Costa Rica were crowned champions of the Central American zone and will join plucky runners-up Panama in the region’s final qualifying event in Canada this May.
The quadrangular competition was held at the Estadio Rommel Fernández in Panama City and saw some fine moments of football in a nation currently undergoing a profound footballing revival at seemingly every level and age category. With two spots up for grabs and two matches gone, Panama and Costa Rica’s graduation to the regional event in the Great White North was already assured.
Costa Rica take control
The young Ticas were in a merciless mood when they met up with El Salvador in their opener. And the fine interplay and understanding between Shirley Cruz and Karla Villalobo opened the door to a cruel 6-0 hammering. Ricardo Rodriguez’ charges came out of the blocks flying with a fine combination of short passes in midfield and brutal efficiency in front of goal.
In their second match with neighbours Nicaragua, the Ticas did not even contemplate taking their foot off the accelerator. Up 8-0 at the half, they surely could have coasted through to the final whistle. But keeping the pressure on, they upped the tempo and sounded a resounding warning to the ever-improving Panamanians.
The 13-0 final result was the combined result of Costa Rica’s complete dominance and Nicaragua’s obvious lack of preparedness. Karla Villalobos and Shirley Cruz each scored four goals while Carolina Guardia and Amara Wilson added two apiece.
Second-place Panameñas prove their point
Panama put the hurt to tournament doormats Nicaragua 9-1 in the first match for both sides. And an astonishing five-goal performance from Amarelis De Mera must have had the fancied Costa Ricans on edge.
A 4-0 drubbing of El Salvador came next and was enough to see the hosts grab one of the available spots at the final qualifying tournament in May. Another impressive two-goal performance from De Mera had the side in complete control from the opening whistle. Despite a valiant effort from the outgunned Salvadorans, Karina Barahona and Sumara Ortega each added a goal to put the result beyond doubt.
Costa Rica tame ambitious hosts
When the two top sides came face-to-face at the “Rommel Fernández” it was always going to be a match to savour. In the end, the relative experience and artistry of the Ticas took them to the top of the heap. But, bolstered by their impressive previous performances, Panama gave fine account of themselves in a 5-3 goal-fest. De Mera was in tip-top form once more. But her goals were not quite enough to see the upstarts past Central America’s finest young females.
Panama and Costa Rica will now join three contenders from the Caribbean zone (Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic) and the three big timers from the North Zone (Canada, Mexico and USA) in the Final Round of qualification from 28 May – 6 June in Montreal and Ottawa, Canada. The two finalists will book passage to Thailand 2004.
Canada played host to the inaugural FIFA Womn’s U-19 World Championship two years ago.